World Building: Missing Persons

The Lost City of Potyr

In 861, the results of the census of the Golden Empire revealed an anomaly; the population had decreased markedly for the first time in more than a hundred years. The drop could not be accounted for by war, famine, or disease. It seemed very much like someone had simply counted wrong, and ended up with a million fewer people. The numbers were run again, and again they were far lower than the previous year, though there seemed to be no fault in the methodology. Within the massive bureaucracy of the Empire, gears started to turn, and questions started to be asked. A clerk was tasked with going over the previous census to see if there was something there that would explain it. What he found was even more confusing – the previous census was also incorrect. When the population was totaled for the cities and rural districts, it did not match the reported total in the official ledger. Archives were dug through, and numbers were crunched, and it was found that this was true for every census going back to be first year that they were created. The census of the Empire was sacrosanct, used for both taxation and districting, and so it was determined that a full investigation must be launched. 

The anomaly was not limited to the census. It seemed to infest every written record within the Empire; tax documents, social welfare programs, budgets, and immigration tallies. The individual numbers seemed correct, but when added together the totals were consistently different from what was on the books. The scope of the investigation was expanded. The libraries had more shelf space than they needed. A large number of inns were shutting down because they didn’t have enough patrons. The economy was quickly entering a recession, as businesses inexplicably seemed to have misjudged supply and demand. The investigation expanded once more. Famous poems and songs went off meter in a few places. The capitol building of the Empire had a host of unused but fully furnished rooms. Something seemed to tie these things, but it was a mystery as to what.

Eventually all the gaps and errors began to suggest the outline of something that was missing from the world. They called it “Potyr” after the ghost from the famous play. It was more obvious from looking at a map; there was a spot in the Empire where several major roads came together beside a river. At such a nexus of travel, one would expect to find an inn, a bridge to cross the river, or at least some hint of civilization. Instead there was nothing. The roads merged with each other through the idyllic woods, but there wasn’t so much as a signpost showing the way in a ten mile circle. When questioned, the nearby farmers claimed that it had always been that way. Traders too had passed through those woods many times. Some even had confused memories about trading with others in those woods.

Potyr must have been a city of nearly a million people. We know that it was one of the twelve founding city-states of the Empire. Whatever caused the city to disappear took memories and written records along with it. There exist almost no references to Potyr, only references to references. The thing which erased Potyr was better with words and numbers than it was with paintings, and so we still find occasional paintings with an unnamed city, always in the background, never the focus, which give some hints as to what it looked like.

It has been more than a hundred years since Potyr disappeared. The ten mile circle where it once was has been resettled, as it is a natural place for a city to be, though it is nowhere near the size that Potyr must have been. No one knows what happened to Potyr. There are those who say that it never existed, that the holes in our histories and records were simply incompetence. Certainly the government of the Empire prefers that story. But one has to wonder whether something like this could happen again – and whether we’d even know if it did.

Bonus Short Story

World Building: Missing Persons

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